From palm-fringed beaches and hidden waterfalls to buzzing markets and trendy cocktail bars, this lively little beach town has it all.
Airlie Beach is a little slice of tropical paradise tucked away in a remote part of North Queensland. Located on the Whitsunday Coast, it’s the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the heavenly Whitsunday Islands. But Airlie Beach is also an amazing travel destination in its own right with lovely laid-back beach vibes and plenty to see and do. We’ve put together a list of some of our favourite activities to make the most of your time in Airlie Beach.
1. Go on a sailing adventure
Is there anything better than feeling the sun on your skin and smelling the sea breeze as you glide through the ocean? On a Whitsunday sailing adventure, you’ll anchor in secluded bays to snorkel with colourful fish and stop at iconic spots like Whitehaven Beach where you can relax on white silica sand and swim in crystal clear water. When you’re not exploring, kick back with a cold one on the deck and watch the sunset over the islands. Ahh, now this is what life’s all a-boat. There are heaps of tour packages to choose from depending on how much time you have to play with, or whether you’d prefer to go basic or splash out on a luxury cruising yacht.
2. Take a scenic flight over the Whitsundays
If you thought the Whitsunday coast was beautiful when you’re out on the ocean, just wait until you see it from the sky. Hopping into a tiny aircraft and seeing the rocky reefs, shimmering turquoise waters and white sandy beaches from above will give you an even bigger perspective of just how beautiful this part of the world is. You’ll see all of the Whitsunday highlights including the gorgeous Heart Reef which you can only see from a bird’s eye view.
3. Chill out on hidden beaches
The Whitsunday mainland is brimming with beautiful beaches to explore. Boathaven and Cannonvale Beach are perfect if you’re looking for somewhere to relax, have the occasional dip and roll into a restaurant for some dinner afterwards. If you’d like to escape the hustle and bustle and get away from it all, head to Dingo Beach, Coral Beach or Hydeaway Bay. These secluded bays, which are only a short drive from the main town in Airlie Beach, have amazing coral reefs for snorkelling and gorgeous views of the ocean and surrounding islands.
4. Discover the Great Barrier Reef on a day tour
Airlie Beach is just a few hours away from one of the world’s seven natural wonders: the Great Barrier Reef. It’s the largest coral reef system on Earth and many parts of it can be seen from space. Wriggle into a wetsuit, pop on your snorkel and jump in. It’s an entirely new world underneath the sea and you’ll get to swim with glistening fish in every colour of the rainbow. If you’re lucky, you might also see sea turtles, manta rays and stingrays elegantly gliding past. If you love the ocean and want to see the vibrant marine life even closer, you could give scuba diving a go.
5. Swim in lush natural swimming holes
Queensland is full of bushland with hidden swimming holes and waterfalls. Sandwiched between Airlie Beach and Prosperine is Cedar Creek Falls: a stunning waterfall and pool nestled in the coastal hinterland. The pool is set in a natural rock amphitheatre that is enveloped in native flora and fauna. You might want to spend a whole day in this tropical paradise so bring plenty of picnic food, cool drinks and a good book. You could even sit in one of the shallow runoff streams if it’s really hot. If you get bored of lounging around at lush waterfalls all day (what a hard life it is), head out on one of the bushwalks that go around and up to the falls. You’ll see some pretty special views from the top.
6. Spend a day chilling at the lagoon
The Airlie Beach Lagoon is the perfect spot to relax if you haven’t got much planned for the day. This 4,300 sqm freshwater pool is located on the shoreline just in front of the main strip so you can dip in and out of the hustle and bustle. The lagoon has gorgeous sea views, picnic benches, barbeques, grassy areas and changing room facilities. There are proper swimming lanes, shallow sections to laze in and a children’s pool to keep the kids entertained. The best part? It’s free to use. Grab a beach blanket, load up the esky and head down for an afternoon of fun in the sun.
7. Pick up some fresh local produce at Airlie Beach Markets
If you’re in town at the weekend, you can’t miss the Airlie Beach Markets. It’s on every Saturday from 7 am to 1.30 pm on the foreshore near the Sailing Club. There are plenty of food trucks to grab a tasty treat and local vendors selling fresh produce to fill up your picnic basket. You’ll find your typical beach market stalls selling holiday souvenirs, homemade crafts, clothing, jewellery, plants, etc. Even if you don’t buy anything, there’s a real buzz down here on a Saturday morning and it’s worth coming down for a coffee and a stroll.
8. Explore nearby national parks
Airlie Beach is a short drive from some gorgeous national parks including South Molle and Conway National Parks. Put on a pair of sneakers, grab some sandwiches and set off for a day of exploring stunning coast-meets-rainforest scenery. Discover lush rainforests, mangroves, hidden lookouts and native wildlife. Keep an eye out for colourful rainbow lorikeets, currawongs and endangered bush stone curlews in the trees.
9. Go for a drink in Airlie Beach’s quirky bars
The main strip in Airlie Beach is filled with quaint cafes, delicious restaurants and quirky bars. It’s quite nice to sip on a coffee or dine alfresco and watch the world go by. The chilled beach town atmosphere changes when the sun goes down and the bars and restaurants fill up with beachgoers who are ready for a cold beverage and a bit of a knees-up. Magnums, Mama Africa, Paddy’s and Shed Bar are popular spots to get a bit lively, but there are plenty of bars sip on a cocktail or two and watch the sun go down over the marina if you’d prefer a quieter atmosphere.
10. Experience a Welcome to Country ceremony with the Ngaro People
The traditional owners of the Whitsundays and the surrounding coastal fringe are the Ngaro People, who are also known as the “Canoe People”. Experience a Welcome to Country ceremony and a short talk about the history and rich culture of this region from a local member of the Ngaro family. The Ngaro history goes back thousands of years and the Nara Inlet on Hook Island is one of the oldest Aboriginal sites discovered on the East Coast of Australia.
Related reading: Learn more about First Nations experiences in Queensland
11. Do the Bicentennial Walk
The 5km Bicentennial Walk from Airlie Beach Lagoon to Cannonvale Beach is a must. The trail takes about 45 minutes to do and is fully paved and mostly flat. It takes you along a gorgeous stretch of coast and there’s a handful of secluded beaches where you can retreat if you’re craving a bit of solitude. If the sea breeze works up your appetite, you can stop midway at the vibrant Coral Sea Marina and take your pick of cafes, bars and restaurants. There’s a great atmosphere down here of an evening with people wining, dining and enjoying some live music.
12. Visit nearby towns
There are so many cool places to visit along the Whitsunday Coast that don’t require you to jump on a boat. Jump in your car instead and head to the tropical town of Bowen (located at the top of the Whitsunday Coast) where you can work your way through eight stunning beaches, snorkel the colourful reefs and eat freshly-caught seafood. Oh, and you have to get a photo with the Big Mango… it’s a rite of passage in Bowen. You could also visit the old mining town of Collinsville, 85km west of Bowen, to escape the beach crowds and have an outback experience.
Whether you want to switch off and relax or have an adventure-packed holiday, good times await in Airlie Beach. If you were just planning on passing through, it might be time to pencil in a few extra days to experience everything this town has to offer.